Intro to Zero Waste: What is it?

So, I’ve shared my vision for this blog with you, I’ve shared some food…now I think it’s time to introduce you another pillar of Renewable Roots: zero waste. This post is part one of a two-part zero waste introduction. In this post I’ll explain what zero waste is. The next post will list easy ways to reduce your waste and footprint.

What is Zero Waste?

The term “zero waste” actually comes from a business model. It describes a circular economy in which goods are manufactured to last and if/when they become unusable, there is a system in place to reuse the materials that avoids waste.

Applied to a lifestyle, it means paying attention to how and what we consume, and utilizing tools to consume in a way that creates as little trash as possible. It’s easy to get hung up on the “zero” part of zero waste, but we don’t live in a world that supports that right now. Plastics and single use items dominate our culture, so until reducing waste becomes mainstream, an all-or-nothing mentality will only drive you crazy (trust me). Do what you can. To help you out, some clever zero-waster (I’m not exactly sure who) came up with the 5 Rs of Zero Waste, a take on the better-known 3 Rs of Recycling:

Refuse what you don’t need. Say “no thanks” to single use disposables like coffee cups, paper plates, plastic utensils, plastic straws; avoid unnecessary plastic packaging on food, personal care and home products.

Reduce the things you still need. Find products that have multiple uses, staples like baking soda, vinegar, and coconut oil. This can also apply to reducing the number of material items you own and may be tempted to buy.

Reuse with the right tools. After refusing disposable items, you’ll still need somewhere to put that latte or sandwich to-go. Things like reusable bottles, containers, cutlery, and tote bags will become essentials. Get creative! Before you recycle that salsa jar, could you still use it? Maybe as a drinking glass or to store leftovers in?

Recycle what you can’t reuse. Recycling is fourth on the list is because while it’s a good band-aid to litter, it isn’t the answer to our trash problem. It requires a lot of additional energy and resources, and recycling guidelines are so specific that a lot of plastic will end up trashed anyway because there isn’t a high enough demand for that specific plastic. If you can’t find plastic alternatives, the lower the number, the more likely it is to actually get recycled. Number 1 and 2 plastics are the more likely candidates. Glass, metal and paper are also more easily recycled.

Rot any organic waste. Food waste is a staggering problem globally, especially in developed countries. While it’s going to be far more difficult to address the food wasted by food industries and retailers, we can control what happens once it’s in our hands. Only buying what you need, eating all edible parts of produce, and composting scraps are all ways of keeping nutrient rich material from going to the landfill.

As you delve further into the ZW world, you’ll find that bulk food bins, farmer’s markets and DIYs are a zero-waster’s best friend. But those things aren’t always accessible and/or possible for everyone. All we can ask of ourselves is to work with what we have. Personally, I’m nowhere near being truly zero waste and neither is my household, and I want to make sure I’m as honest as possible about that. I want to give you a candid look at my journey. It’s going to be a long haul, but it’s certainly doable and worthwhile. And that’s what I hope to show: that even with limited resources, there’s, something everyone can do.

Reducing waste may require some re-thinking of old habits and letting go of some of the convenience that has become commonplace. But I think it’s worth it, and I hope that if you do too, this information can help you get started. Thanks for being open to change. Stay tuned for part two!


Disclaimer: This post contains links to outside sites and organizations, but I am not being sponsored or paid by any of them. I simply want to provide sources for the information and/or products I am sharing. I believe it is easier to facilitate positive change when concrete examples are given to serve as a launching pad for your own journey!


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